Outreach & Guiding for a National Science and Technology Forum group (NSTF Brilliants) to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT): Friday 23rd to Monday 26th June 2017.

Anja Bruton, the Science Promotions Coordinator at SKA Africa, approached StarPeople to accompany the NSTF Brilliants group (http://www.nstf.org.za/youth/brilliants-programme/) on the tour to the SKA and SALT and we jumped at the opportunity. Anja and Dimpho would fly to Kimberly to meet up with Jansie Niehaus and Wilna Eksteen from the NSTF (http://www.nstf.org.za/) and a group of students, chosen for their exceptional performance in the 2016 Matriculation exams; specifically in the Science paper. This group would fly down from Gauteng and, after a day’s sightseeing in Kimberley, they would tackle the long journey to Carnarvon in two Quantums on Saturday the 24th. They would also be accompanied by two photographers who were tasked with documenting the trip.

Lynnette, Auke, Snorre and I would leave Cape Town for Carnarvon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnarvon,_Northern_Cape) early on Thursday the 23rd and book in at the Lord Carnarvon Guest House. Anja and the rest of the group were scheduled to arrive shortly after lunch on Saturday and on Saturday evening StarPeople were to present a stargazing session at Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base about 15 km outside Carnarvon. On Sunday morning the group would visit the SKA site itself and after that, e would depart for Sutherland. On Sunday evening there was to be stargazing session at the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre and on Monday morning we would tour the SAAO facilities on the hill before heading for Cape Town.

However, as Robert Burns once said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” First of all, Auke had to pull out because of domestic complications. Then the car hire company notified us that the vehicle we required could only be delivered on Friday morning and not on Thursday afternoon as requested. This, of course, scuppered our 05:00 departure plan, but Lynnette and I made sure that we had everything packed and ready to load by 08:00 when the vehicle was scheduled to arrive. However, it only arrived at about 08:30 and, when it did arrive, it was petrol and not diesel driven as had been requested. Disaster! Petrol-driven vehicles are not allowed access to the SKA site because their spark plugs generate interference for the radio telescope. It is more than 600 km to Carnarvon and we had to be there before dark. We also still had to load the vehicle so, if we sent it back and insisted on a diesel driven one, there was no chance of reaching Carnarvon before dark. We signed for the vehicle, finished loading in record time and at 09:40 we set off for Carnarvon.

TOP: The hired Hyundai H1 with the StarPeople door magnets.  CENTRE: Entering Malmesbury.  BOTTOM: Passing Moorreesburg on the N7.

The journey was long but uneventful. We stopped for petrol and Lynnette’s packed lunch in Vanrhynsdorp (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanrhynsdorp) after 290 km. We then stopped halfway up the spectacular Vanrhyns Pass to take pictures. The original pass was constructed in 1880 by Thomas Bain and climbs almost 600 m from the Knersvlakte to its summit, situated at just over 800 m, which is about the same as the top of Du Toitskloof pass. The pass has an average gradient of 1:15 with the steepest section being 1:12.

TOP: Looking West from Piekenierskloof Pass toward the northern end of the Piketberg.  CENTRE: Citrusdal in the distance against the backdrop of the Cederberg with Cederberg Sneeukop just left of centre.  BOTTOM: The turn-off to Clanwilliam and this rebuilt section of the N7 is a pleasure to drive.
TOP: Stop and Go delay due to the reconstruction of the bridge across the Olifants River.  CENTRE: The light coloured patches on the hill in the background are called Heuweltjies and their origin is a much-debated topic. Go to any one of the following links to read up on them. (1. https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Heuweltjie) (2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuweltjie#cite_note-7) (3. http://www.sajs.co.za/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/SAJS%20112_1-2_Cramer_Research%20Article.pdf) (4. https://www.infona.pl/resource/bwmeta1.element.elsevier-ab969e23-2c87-36b0-a144-1c5ed9ebd6af) BOTTOM: Vanrhynsdorp and the cliffs of the Matzikamma mountain range. Maskam lies at the eastern end while Gifberg is on the western edge. These mountains form the western boundary of the Great Escarpment.
TOP: Approaching the Knersvlakte on the R27 and in the distance the edge of the Great Escarpment.  2nd FROM TOP: Vanrhyns Pass which takes the R27 up to the top of the Great Escarpment is visible in the distance.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: The R27 begins the ascent of the pass.  BOTTOM: Up we go around one of the many fairly sharp bends in the road up the pass.

Shortly after Vanrhyns Pass, we passed the turnoff to the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve (here is a Wikipedia link http://www.footprint.co.za/oorlogskloof.htm ) with its spectacular glacial floor, but there was no time to visit that on this trip. The reserve is situated just west of Nieuwoudtville (http://www.nieuwoudtville.com/the-treasure/). Next was Calvinia the main town of the Hantam region (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinia) with its extra outsize red post-box and, 230 km after Vanrhynsdorp, we reached Williston (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williston,_Northern_Cape), where we made a brief stop for another light snack and to answer a call of nature, before tackling the last 125 km to Carnarvon. Time constraints had prevented us from visiting the Langbaken cheese farm (http://karoospace.co.za/cheesemakers-upper-karoo/) south of Williston, but we will save that for another day.

TOP: View back over the Knersvlakte toward the West Coast and the distant South Atlantic Ocean.  2nd FROM TOP: View southeast past a mass of protruding sandstone in the direction of the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Steep cliffs of Table Mountain sandstone group rise above the road.  BOTTOM: A very large red flower post-box in Calvinia.
TOP: The R63 stretches out ahead of us as we approach Williston.  2nd FROM TOP: The shadow of the Earth and the pink layer of the Venus Girdle over Carnarvon as we approach on the R63.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Entering the outskirts of Carnarvon.  BOTTOM: Our destination the Lord Carnarvon Guest House in Carnarvon.

On the last stretch, we had to push it a bit and reached Carnarvon in the gathering dusk at 17:45, where we reported to Pieter Hoffman at the Lord Carnarvon guest house in Daniel Street (https://www.carnarvon.co.za/lcindex.htm). This building was the Officer’s Mess during the Anglo-South African War and he has done a magnificent job of restoring it. We unloaded, got Snorre settled in, and walked round to Lord’s Kitchen in Victoria Street (https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Restaurant_Review-g4226745-d8743616-Reviews-Lord_s-Carnarvon_Northern_Cape.html), also run by Pieter, for supper. After supper, we walked back to the Lord Carnarvon and had the amusing experience of being escorted by a police vehicle because “nobody walks around Carnarvon in the dark”.  This remark struck us a rather odd considering the fact that there were quite a few other local people in the streets.

TOP: Our very well appointed accommodation in the Lord Carnarvon Guest House.  2nd FROM TOP: Snorre making himself at home on his red blanket which we always put over the bed wherever we stay. Although he never, or hardly ever, sleeps on our bed at home, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to do so when we are away from home.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Interior of the front section in Lord’s Kitchen.  BOTTOM: Outside view of our room in the guest house.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast at the Lord Carnarvon, Lynnette, Snorre and I took to the streets to do some house hunting in case we should decide to move to Carnarvon. The results of this expedition were rather disappointing as we soon discovered that, like many small country towns in South Africa, the homeowners wanted lots of cash for the property that was, in our opinion, worth a lot less. The other aspect which surprised us, even though Anja had warned us about it, was the negative sentiment toward the SKA project and the amount of disinformation circulating in the town. This varied from stories that farmers were being chased off their farms without compensation or that farms were being confiscated in order to distribute the land to previously disadvantaged persons, and even that townsfolk were to be evicted so that four blocks of houses could be knocked down to build a college. We also came across an openly hostile sign in a back yard in Kidd Street. Most obvious was the fact that almost everyone we spoke to had no bloody clue what the SKA was, or what it was about.

TOP: Snorre enjoying our slow exploration of Carnarvon.  2nd FROM TOP: Some locals on the outskirts of Carnarvon.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Victoria Street and Lord’s Kitchen with the Adjacent Lord Carnarvon Hotel.  BOTTOM: Sign in the back yard of a house in Kidd Street which we found to be indicative of the attitude of many Carnarvon residents we spoke to.

Shortly before 16:00 Anja let us know they had arrived and were having a late lunch at Lord’s Kitchen. We popped around and Anja introduced us to the group. After the meal the group dispersed to their various rooms and Anja, Dimpho, Lynnette and I set off for Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base, to set up Lorenzo for the stargazing later that evening. Mission accomplished we headed back to town to collect all our warm gear and have supper. After supper, the five vehicle cavalcade made its way back to Klerefontein. On a hill southeast of where we were situated was the large 7,6 m dish of the C-BASS radio telescope (https://www.ska.ac.za/science-engineering/c-bass/) catching the last rays of the setting sun as it patiently toiled away sweeping back and forth to map the radio sky in the 4,5-5,5 MHz frequency range. The C-BASS dish, recently moved from Hartebeeshoek (http://www.hartrao.ac.za/) to Klerefontein, is the southern component (the other telescope is in California) of a project to produce a microwave (short-wavelength radio) radiation map similar to the one produced by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_(spacecraft)), but at longer wavelengths than Planck. C-BASS will also measure the polarization of the radiation.

Anja split the students into two groups for the planned activities. One group stayed with Lynnette, Lorenzo and I to do some stargazing. The other group went inside to participate in Skype Q&A session with Jim Adams, Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA (https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/people/adamsj).The Milky Way was magnificent and drew many Ooh’s and Aah’s from the group. I did a basic what’s-up-tonight and then kept talking while Lynnette operated Lorenzo. There was no Moon but fortunately, Jupiter and Saturn were nicely placed and we could also show them a selection of the other well-known objects. After about an hour the groups changed around and Lynnette, Lorenzo and I repeated our earlier performance. Once we had done with the second group, it was packing up time and then back to town for a hot shower and some much-needed sleep.

Sunday morning at 06:15 it was breakfast time at Lord’s Kitchen and, after collecting our packed lunches, it was all aboard for the trip out to Klerefontein where Anja gave us a Health and Safety briefing and had us all fill in indemnity forms. During the briefing, the emphasis was placed on the mayhem electronic devices caused for the radio telescopes. Mobile phones, which all had to be switched off, were a prime source and even my hearing aid’s hands-free device, that uses Blue Tooth, had to be switched off. After all, this had been sorted out, our motorcade tackled the more than 70 or so kilometers out to the actual SKA site. Large sections have already been tarred, but there are still fairly long sections that are very rough and dusty. Lynnette and I had to leave our petrol driven vehicle with Snorre in it just inside the checkpoint at what used to be the Meysdam farmhouse and continue with Anja and Dimpho in their vehicle. Snorre was quite safe, with enough fresh air, water and food to keep him busy till we get back. We made sure that the vehicle would be in the deep shade while we were away too.

TOP LEFT: Coffee was clearly a priority for most of the group.  TOP RIGHT: They came in by drips and drabs.  BOTTOM LEFT: André, one of the drivers, looking most inquisitive.  BOTTOM RIGHT: Leftovers tell the tale of what was popular and what wasn’t.
TOP: A quiet Victoria Street at 07:20.  CENTRE: Entering Klerefontein with the C-BASS dish on the hill in the distance.  BOTTOM: A dusty section of the road out to the SKA site.

Our first stop was the very impressive, half underground, Karoo Array Processor Building. Placing the centre below ground level was essential to minimize the amount of interference from the computers. In addition to being below ground level, the whole installation is housed inside a huge Faraday cage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage). It is ironic that a radio telescope, which cannot function without massive computer support, also experiences its most annoying interference from computers. It was while touring the Processor Building point that I realized that, if I had simply put my phone on Airplane Mode, I could have brought it with me and taken photographs. Some mothers are just unfortunate to have very dense children! Our next stop was the huge, hanger-sized building where the MeerKAT dishes are assembled. It is only when one stands next to one of these huge constructions lying flat on the floor that one really gets an idea of their overwhelming size. Needless to say, at this point, I mentally administered several more resounding kicks to my posterior for not having anything to take pictures with. After completing this part of the tour it was back into the vehicles for the drive out to the telescopes.

The first stop was the KAT-7 dishes (http://www.ska.ac.za/) where all but one pointed south, collecting data on some unseen object light years away in a distant part of the Universe. KAT-7 was a precursor engineering test bed for the larger MeerKAT array and also served as a demonstration of South Africa’s technological ability when the bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was submitted. However, KAT-7, the first radio telescope ever to be built with a dish consisting of composite material, is also a science instrument in its own right. Each 12-meter dish is fitted with a prime focus receiver and a Stirling pump cooling unit that supplies the cryogenic cooling to keep the electronics at 75 K. The total collecting area of the seven dishes is about 2000 m2 and they function in the 3 to 30 cm wavelength range at frequencies between 1 200 and 1 950 MHz. KAT-7’s minimum baseline (shortest distance between two dishes) is 26 m and the maximum baseline (longest distance between two dishes) is 185 m. These seven dishes will eventually be decommissioned as science instruments when their successors, the MeerKat Array, comes online and be made available for serious amateurs.

Then we were off to find a MeerKAT dish (http://www.ska.ac.za/) that was positioned in such a way that it would be easy to photograph, which wasn’t easy because, despite the fact that they were lots of them, they were all facing in different directions. It really is an impressive sight, seeing these dishes scattered across the Karoo veldt against the backdrop of the low, dolerite topped hills that surround the area, with the dolerite providing a natural radio screen for the telescopes. Considering that only half of the MeerKAT dishes have been erected so far, one can only imagine what a spectacle it will be when all 64 MeerKAT dishes have been completed. The final Karoo Array Telescope or KAT will definitely be a must-see destination and a breathtaking spectacle for all who visit it. MeerKAT will eventually form the core of the KAT radio telescope array. These 13,5m dishes differ from those of KAT-7 in that they use an offset Gregorian configuration for the placing of the secondary dish and the receivers. Each dish is equipped with three receivers; 0,58 – 1,015 GHz, 1 – 1,75 GHz and 8 – 14,5 GHz. The MeerKAT minimum baseline is 29 m and the maximum baseline is 8 km.

Both KAT-7 and MeerKAT are entirely South African conceived, funded and built enterprises and, even after the construction of the KAT, which has multiple international partners, these two installations will remain entirely South African.

Our next stop was the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) (http://www.ska.ac.za/) which is the simplest construction imaginable and is the successor to the Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization (PAPER). PAPER has 128 antennae situated at the SKA site and 32 antennae situated in West Virginia in the USA. HERA is an American, British and South African collaboration that will eventually have 331 antennae of 14 m each at the SKA site. The existing PAPER installation will be moved to a location slightly west of the HERA installation and eventually decommissioned when HERA is fully operational. Whereas KAT-7, MeerKAT, and KAT are multipurpose installations HERA has only one fixed goal; it is going to probe back into time to try and find that moment when the very first stars switched on to light up in the Universe. In the process, it will produce a three-dimensional map of the universe during that specific period using radio waves in the 100-200 MHz frequency range. This project is the radio astronomy equivalent of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and when they succeed, this project could very well be in line for a Nobel Prize. The antennae are fixed in one position, pointing straight up at the sky and have no moving parts, which greatly reduces the cost of the installation. What makes this project remarkable is that it is constructed with materials bought off the shelf in a local hardware store by people from the local community of Carnarvon who have been trained by SKA scientists. The big dishes of KAT-7 and the even bigger dishes of MeerKAT look like science instruments. HERA, however, looks like an inverted chicken coop or perhaps some sort of landscape art and not very scientific at all.

We went back to the Processor Building to enjoy our packed lunches and, while there Lynnette noticed that one of the Quantums had a flat tyre, necessitating a wheel change. After lunch, Anja and Dimpho dropped Lynnette and I off at Meysdam to pick up our vehicle and then we all traipsed back to Klerefontein where Anja and Dimpho changed vehicles before we all drove back to Carnarvon to refuel. Lynnette and I had done that the previous evening so we just hung around until the whole convoy was ready to start the long journey to Sutherland, which Anja had elected to do via Loxton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loxton,_Northern_Cape). The just under 70 km from Carnarvon to Loxton was a breeze on a nice tarred road but then came the long 100 km grind on the R356 gravel road to Fraserburg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraserburg). We had been contemplating a visit to the palaeosurface at Gansefontein, just outside Fraserburg, but time was against as; seriously against us. We had hardly left Fraserburg when the sun set and, as it got darker, driving became more and more difficult. The 110 km stretch to Sutherland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutherland,_Northern_Cape) was going to take much, much longer than planned and our stargazing appointment at the SAAO site (http://www.saao.ac.za/about/visting/sutherland/) outside Sutherland had to be canceled. Because Lynnette and I were the last car in the convoy, we collected all the dust from the four vehicles ahead of us. This forced us to fall back more than a kilometer behind the fourth vehicle before we had a clear view of the road ahead.

We all made it safely to Sutherland and, while the majority of the group was booking into the Sutherland Hotel (http://www.sutherlandhotel.co.za/accommodation.php), Lynnette, Snorre, Anja and I as well as the two drivers of the Quantums, booked into Kambro Kind Guest House, where we were welcomed by Juanita Hutchings. Once booked in we went back to the Hotel where we had a typical Karoo supper consisting of meat, meat and more meat with a few vegetables right at the end of the buffet table.  It is just a pity that the hotel did not think of having a nice fire going in the dining area on such a cold evening.

After supper Lynnette and I, Lorenzo, Anja, the photographers and several students drove out to Middelfontein to do some stargazing (http://www.roomsforafrica.com/establishment.do?id=13879&gclid=Cj0KCQjws-LKBRDCARIsAAOTNd6cUH9fdKlh5bbYksnV0F5D-BQPK4kMRrO8IdxP7D_a6uSOZX_UQX8aAoUUEALw_wcB). The photographers were spending the night on Middelfontein, but the rest of us would have to drive back to town to get some sleep. The right side sliding door on our vehicle, which had been playing up since the previous day went on strike when we started unloading. It first refused to open and then, when we forced it to open, it refused to shut without the use of considerable force and, once shut, it refused to open again so we left it shut. Then the courtesy light inside the door which was supposed to only go on when the door was open, decided it wanted to be on even when the door was shut. A resounding thump on the outside of the door convinced the light to go off and stay off. Once that was sorted out we could get round to the stargazing which was a presented in the same format as on Saturday evening at Klerefontein and, once again, worked very well. So well, in fact, that Anja had to chase us all off to bed around midnight.

On Monday morning Lynnette and I packed up before breakfast and, true to Sutherland’s reputation of being very cold, the windscreen of our vehicle was thickly frosted over and the fishpond had a layer of ice over it, thick enough to walk on. After breakfast at Kambro Kind, everyone gathered at the Hotel before departing for the SAAO site where the group spent some time examining the displays in the Visitor’s Centre before Anthony Mitas took us under his very capable wing and shepherded us up the hill to start our tour at the Southern African Large Telescope or SALT (http://www.saao.ac.za/science/facilities/telescopes/salt/). SALT is an international collaboration between South Africa and several overseas partners and is operated as a separate research entity on the SAO site.

TOP LEFT: In Sutherland, you can stand on your fishpond – sometimes.  CENTRE LEFT: The group gets kinky necks as Anthony points up.  BOTTOM LEFT: The SALT mirror.  RIGHT: A section of the beautiful quilt in the foyer of the Visitor’s Centre.
LEFT: SALT all the way to the dome.  RIGHT: SALT against the backdrop of the blue Karoo sky and some wispy clouds.

Anthony presented a most comprehensive and informative talk to the group and, to everyone’s delight, arranged to have the 32-ton behemoth raised on its air cushions and rotated for us. After SALT we went to the 1,9-meter telescope. This is the second largest optical telescope in South Africa and, as the Radcliffe Telescope, it used to be housed in Pretoria but uncontrolled light pollution chased it south in the mid-1970’s (http://assa.saao.ac.za/sections/history/observatories/radcliffe_obs/). It has since acquired new instrumentation designed and built by SAAO-staff and still has many years of valuable scientific life ahead of it. At the telescope, we were met by Dr. Potter, a senior astronomer on the SAAO staff. Dr. Potter talked most informatively about the telescope and his own work as well as the other projects being conducted on the telescope. He also demonstrated how easy it was to operate the telescope, especially after the installation of modern electronic control systems, and showed the group around the control room as well.

After saying goodbye to Dr. Potter and Anthony, we stopped off in Sutherland to refuel and then made a beeline for Cape Town where the group had an 18:00 appointment at the SAAO headquarters in Observatory. We made one stop at the Veldskoen Farm Stall and said our final goodbyes before splitting up.

TOP: Salpeterkop the extinct 65 million-year-old volcano. The container on the left is the Property of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and was recently opened along with the German Aerospace Centre’s dome (DLR) (http://www.sansa.org.za/spacescience/resource-centre/news/1622-another-eye-towards-the-sky-unveiling-south-africa-s-optical-space-research-laboratory?platform=hootsuite). The white pillar on the right used to carry a German site testing telescope – I think! CENTRE: A very bored traveling cat called Snorre.  BOTTOM: Descending the Hex Pass.

My only regret is that with the group split over several vehicles it was impossible to do any guiding while en route. Although we considered stopping the vehicles at points of interest, it would not have been practical from a safety point of view. Time constraints, which played an important role during the trip, virtually canceled the possibility of additional stops even if safety had not been an important consideration.

TOP: A scene north of the R27 as one approaches Calvinia.  2nd FROM TOP: Those five crumbed mushrooms were quite good, but they cost R9 each at Lord’s Kitchen!.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: The two crumbed pork chops served by Lord’s kitchen were probably the largest I have ever been served in a restaurant and they were also probably the most tender and juicy ones too..  BOTTOM: It’s a good thing we didn’t stay too much longer in SALT or there would have been some very stiff necks the next day.

I will post more photos at a later stage as they become available from other people who were on the trip as well as the two official photographers.

Astronomy Outreach & Guiding Course/Workshop, SAAO Sutherland: Friday 21st to Saturday 22nd April 2017.

When the subject of this course came up both Auke and I immediately asked “Why didn’t we finish this thing long ago” and he was right we should have done it when we first talked about it three or more years ago. Well, it was too late for tears now and we had to get stuck in and get it done.  We discovered that we had actually done a lot of the spade word back then and produced a very good basic framework. What we now needed to do was to put flesh on the bare bones and tweak a few things here and there.

That is exactly what we did and on the 20th of April we set off in the Vito for Sutherland. Lynnette and Snore stayed at home because there is a “no pets” rule in the hostel at the SAAO in Sutherland so Snorre would not have been able to come with us.  Lynnette, very unwillingly, accepted the role of a cat sitter.

We arrived latish on Thursday the 20th at the hostel. After greeting Cedric, Sivuyile and Thembela in the dining room we transferred all our stuff from the Vito into our rooms and then went outside with coffee to appreciate the dark skies. I took a set of darks sky readings about which I will give some feedback later.

TOP: A dead tree silhouetted against the red glow of the setting sun in the west. CENTRE: In the east, the night approaches across the Karoo landscape. BOTTOM: Auke, taking pictures of the standing stones.
TOP: A dead tree silhouetted against the red glow of the setting sun in the west. CENTRE: In the east, the night approaches across the Karoo landscape. BOTTOM: Auke, taking pictures of the standing stones.

Next morning it was breakfast at 07:30 and shortly after 08:00 we were at the Visitors Centre to set up in the library. The group for the course/workshop was:
Anthony Mitas (SAAO, Sutherland)
Cedric Jacobs (SAAO, Cape Town)
Claudine Vernooi (SAAO, Sutherland)
Francois Klein (SAAO, Sutherland)
Jeremy Stuurman (SAAO, Sutherland)
Sivuyile Manxoyi   (SAAO, Cape Town)
Thembela Mantungwa (SAAO, Cape Town)
Willem Prins (SAAO, Sutherland)

I am not going to give a blow by blow account of the course content or the progress in the class.  That will be done in official reports. None of the attendees were entirely inexperienced except perhaps Francois and he made up for that in enthusiasm. People like Cedric, Sivuyile and Willem all had a great deal of experience and the others all had varying degrees of experience.

TOP: The prominent dark blue earth shadow receding in the west accompanied by the pink of the Venus Girdle ahead of the approaching daylight. CENTRE: Morning sunlight flooding across the hills casting deep shadows in the valleys. BOTTOM: SALT, done for the night and the contrails of a passing plane catching the sunlight.
TOP: The prominent dark blue earth shadow receding in the west accompanied by the pink of the Venus Girdle ahead of the approaching daylight. CENTRE: Morning sunlight flooding across the hills casting deep shadows in the valleys. BOTTOM: SALT, done for the night and the contrails of a passing plane catching the sunlight.

Our approach was that this was a workshop during which we would all learn from each other and we encouraged everyone to share experiences right from the word go.  Everyone did exactly that throughout the two days and the result was a very positive learning experience for all concerned.

As far as outreach was concerned it quickly became apparent that there were too few people on the ground to handle the number of schools and the vast number of learners that had to be reached.  As far as the essential follow-up of visits it was very clear that there was simply no chance of doing this at the frequency required to make it effective.  In the Northern Cape, the numbers problem was further complicated by the distances between towns and the condition of the roads.

Taken all together the group had a large combined pool of experience. One of the energetically debated points was the problems experienced during outreach and stargazing sessions. Some of these problems originated from the belief systems people adhere to while others are the result of misrepresentations by science quacks and a small percentage can be attributed to genuine ignorance. Although some of these situations can be amusing all of them require tact to resolve as they all have the potential to damage science and our reputations as presenters. The bottom line was that as outreach practitioners we are all also at the forefront of science education to the public at large and to learners.

On the both the Friday and Saturday evenings we had practical sessions.  Friday evening we did not use telescopes but rather concentrated on constellations and easy activities like finding satellites as predicted by appropriate software applications.

TOP: Me talking with Sivuyile and Thembela listening against the backdrop of one of the shelves in the SAAO library in Sutherland. Out of the picture are Anthony, Francois, Cedric, Claudine, Jeremey and Willem. CENTRE: The group around the Lorenzo, our workhorse 10”Dobsonian, with the SALT dome in the distance and bright Arcturus also making it into the field of view. BOTTOM: Auke’s longer exposure showing short star trails and a flurry of activity around the telescope.
TOP: Me talking with Sivuyile and Thembela listening against the backdrop of one of the shelves in the SAAO library in Sutherland. Out of the picture are Anthony, Francois, Cedric, Claudine, Jeremey and Willem. CENTRE: The group around the Lorenzo, our workhorse 10”Dobsonian, with the SALT dome in the distance and bright Arcturus also making it into the field of view. BOTTOM: Auke’s longer exposure showing short star trails and a flurry of activity around the telescope.

The Saturday session at the telescopes was quite an eye opener for us. There was so much enthusiasm and an incredible participatory spirit.  It sounded more like a party than a stargazing practical. Make no mistake there was a lot of serious astronomy and learning taking place at the same time but in such a good spirit and everyone wanted to contribute or help wherever necessary.

The Ghost of Venus took the longest to find but eventually, that was also laid to rest.  Willem’s attempts to keep everyone going till Sagittarius rose into the sky were eventually thwarted by a combination of a dropping temperature and overall fatigue.

What a pleasure to work with a group like this and a big thank-you to each and every one of you.

On Sunday Morning Auke and I talked Willie into showing us around the new 1-meter Telescope and giving us a brief overview of what was new up on the hill.  Thanks, Willie! After that Auke and I hit the road considerably later than we had planned but we still had one stop to make.

TOP LEFT: The 1-metre telescopes pedigree. I am very curious to see which name the SAAO will select from the many entries that they received. TOP CENTRE: View from the “front”. TOP RIGHT: View from the “back” and Auke can be seen in the lower right of the photograph photographing something in the basement. BOTTOM LEFT: The secondary mirror. BOTTOM CENTRE: Willie Koorts took this photograph of me looking up at the secondary. BOTTOM RIGHT: Willie looking very relaxed against the backdrop of the dome.
TOP LEFT: The 1-metre telescopes pedigree. I am very curious to see which name the SAAO will select from the many entries that they received. TOP CENTRE: View from the “front”. TOP RIGHT: View from the “back” and Auke can be seen in the lower right of the photograph photographing something in the basement. BOTTOM LEFT: The secondary mirror. BOTTOM CENTRE: Willie Koorts took this photograph of me looking up at the secondary. BOTTOM RIGHT: Willie looking very relaxed against the backdrop of the dome.
TOP: The 1.9 meter on the right and on the left the 11 meter SALT, CENTRE: Auke’s very artistic photograph of the telescopes at the SAAO site as seen through the protective dome of the all-sky measuring equipment. BOTTOM: In the centre of the photograph is the dome (apparently there will be a second one) of a private (French) enterprise on Klipkraal just west of the SAAO.
TOP: The 1.9 meter on the right and on the left the 11 meter SALT. CENTRE: Auke’s very artistic photograph of the telescopes at the SAAO site as seen through the protective dome of the all-sky measuring equipment. BOTTOM: In the centre of the photograph is the dome (apparently there will be a second one) of a private (French) enterprise on Klipkraal just west of the SAAO.

In the Verlatenkloof Pass, the old Toll House has been bought by a long time resident of Paarl, Tjol Herbst. No not Lategan, he was the rugby player. This Tjol moved to the Karoo after his retirement on the advice of his doctor because of his asthma. We stopped off there for a very interesting chat and a cold beer. Pay the man a visit, it is quite an education.

TOP: The old Tollhouse in Verlatenkloof Pass now belongs to this gentleman, Tjol Herbst. 2nd FROM TOP: In the background the old stables of the Tollhouse and in the foreground the caravans that constitute Tjol’s living space. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: Myself and Tjol on the stoep of his unique pub with the partially finished ablution block in the background. BOTTOM: Tjol behind his bar counter in the tiny but very welcoming bar.
TOP: The old Tollhouse in Verlatenkloof Pass now belongs to this gentleman, Tjol Herbst. 2nd FROM TOP: In the background the old stables of the Tollhouse and in the foreground the caravans that constitute Tjol’s living space. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: Myself and Tjol on the stoep of his unique pub with the partially finished ablution block in the background. BOTTOM: Tjol behind his bar counter in the tiny but very welcoming bar.

After visiting Tjol we were finally on our way home which was uneventful except for two stops to buy fruit. The one at Veldskoen was a disappointment because their grapes were sold out so we stopped at the Seekoeipadstal, which had ample stock. After dropping Auke off in Somerset West I finally got to Brackenfell.

First South African Comet Discovery in 35 Years

13 April 2015 – First South African Comet Discovery in 35 Years

In the early hours of the 7th April, an un-manned robotic telescope, MASTER-SAAO, situated near Sutherland in the Karoo, discovered a new comet. This is the first comet to be discovered in South Africa since 1978.  The Russian – South African run telescope has been scanning the southern skies since it began operating in late December 2014, looking for “transients” – new objects which appear in the sky for the first time. Since then, over 60 new  objects have been discovered, most of them being erupting or exploding stars. However, the MASTER-SAAO telescope has just discovered its first comet. Please go here to read all about the discovery and see pictures on the SAAO website

SALT: March 2015

We visit SALT and get educated.

The visit to SALT was organized primarily to get Alan deep inside the telescope so that he could figure out some stuff he was unable to resolve from the drawings he had. Alan needed to know this minute detail because he is building the best model of SALT the Universe has ever seen for StarPeople’s outreach activities.  However, just when everything was organized disaster struck, because Alan’s employer withdrew his leave for complicated “technical” reasons. The rest of us decided to go in any case and give Alan all our photos afterward and then organize a second visit later in the year for his benefit.

In the end it was only Lynnette and I, Paul, Lucas, René, Wendy, Ross and his son that undertook the trip because Auke, Leslie and Martin couldn’t make it. Paul, Lucas and René camped at Sterland. You can go here to read more about Sterland. Lynnette, Wendy and I were put up by Ester Jordaan at Alpha B&B and Ester put up Ross and his son at one of her other guest houses, The Sutherland Guest House. Go here to read more about Alpha B&B and here if you want to know more about The Sutherland Guest House.

Top left: Paul on the prowl against the background of the building that houses the SAAO's visitor telescopes Top right: Wendy and Lynnette on their way to the Visitor's Centre. Bottom left: A very ingenious model of SALT by not quite what StarPeople have in mind for outreach. Bottom right:  Paul becomes almost double jointed when he gets behind the camera
Top left: Paul on the prowl against the background of the building that houses the SAAO’s visitor telescopes
Top right: Wendy and Lynnette on their way to the Visitor’s Centre.
Bottom left: A very ingenious model of SALT but not quite what StarPeople have in mind for outreach.
Bottom right: Paul becomes almost double jointed when he gets behind the camera

As arranged everyone made their own way to Sutherland and all of us pitched up on time at the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre, where we paid our dues to Anthony Mietas before he led our convoy up the hill to SALT, where our guide, Chris Coetzee, was waiting. Go here to find out more about the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre. The first thing we learnt was that we all had to be wearing closed shoes otherwise we would not be allowed to enter specific areas. General safety and the need to stay in a group where he could see us all, were stressed by Chris before we went in.  Next we were all issued with hard hats and I remember thinking that all we now needed, to really look “official” and have the run of the place, was a white coat and a clipboard.

Top left: Wendy and René in matching yellow hard hats and Lynnette in a white one to match her blouse. Top right: Up on the catwalk without Lynnette and Wendy.  It really is a long way down to the floor. Bottom left: Lucas and in the background one of the housing of the High Resolution Spectrograph situated right below  the telescope on the floor above. Bottom Right: Everybody making their way through the Spectrograph Room toward the Control Room.
Top left: Wendy and René in matching yellow hard hats and Lynnette in a white one to match her blouse.
Top right: Up on the catwalk without Lynnette and Wendy. It really is a long way down to the floor.
Bottom left: Lucas and in the background the housing of the High Resolution Spectrograph situated right below the telescope on the floor above.
Bottom Right: Everybody making their way through the Spectrograph Room toward the Control Room.
Top left: Paul looking a bit bewildered against the background of all those files.  Top right: Lucas and Chris discussing a point or two. Bottom Left: Paul on Saturday lurking around Sutherland with his camera Bottom right: Paul and Lucas discussing some finer photographic points against the backdrop of the Artist's Cottage in Jubilee Street
Top left: Paul looking a bit bewildered against the background of all those files.
Top right: Lucas and Chris discussing a point or two in the Control Room.
Bottom Left: Paul on Saturday lurking around Sutherland with his camera
Bottom right: Paul and Lucas discussing some finer photographic points against the backdrop of the Artist’s Cottage in Jubilee Street

I am not going to run through the tour step by step, as there is just too much to tell. So you will have to get the story from the photos. Lynnette and Wendy had to dip out when we went up on the catwalk as they both have an extreme reaction to heights.

Top left: Three of the refrigeration units used to cool the inside of the SALT building down to the expected temperature when the louvers are opened at the start of a night's observing. The cupboard with the grey door is an Igloo. It houses banks of electronics and keeps them cool an also prevents any light they may generate from interfering with the telescope's observations.  Top right: The framework that supports mirror structure. Bottom left: One of the giant feet supporting the telescope's structure/ The yellow section houses the rubber discs which form the air cushions on which the telescope moves when it rotates   Bottom right: A closer look at the underside of a mirror section.  The mirror rests on the blue bits and the grey cylinders are part of the system that control the movement of each mirror section during the alignment process.  The background photograph shows the segmented mirror itself.
Top left: Three of the refrigeration units used to cool the inside of the SALT building down to the expected temperature when the louvers are opened at the start of a night’s observing. The cupboard with the grey door is an Igloo. It houses banks of electronics and keeps them cool and also prevents any light they may generate from interfering with the telescope’s observations.
Top right: The framework that supports the mirror structure.
Bottom left: One of the giant feet supporting the telescope’s structure. The yellow section houses the rubber discs which form the air cushions on which the telescope moves when it rotates.
Bottom right: A closer look at the underside of a mirror section. The mirror rests on the blue bits and the grey cylinders are part of the system that controls the movement of each mirror section during the alignment process.
The background photograph shows the segmented mirror itself.
Top left: The wheel in the centre is part of the drive system that rotates the entire structure once it has been lifted on the air cushions. The small vertical cylinder measures the height of the structure above the concrete surface. The concrete is sealed with an epoxy layer to make it as smooth as possible and prevent it generating any dust. Top right: The cable housing that prevents the mass of cables leading up to the giant instrument beam above the telescope from becoming mangled or tangled when the telescope rotates. Bottom left: A gap in the mirror where a segment has been removed for cleaning and resurfacing. Bottom right: One of the motors that drives the rotation of the dome.  This yellow conduits carry high voltage power lines.
Top left: The wheel in the centre is part of the drive system that rotates the entire structure once it has been lifted on the air cushions. The small vertical cylinder measures the height of the structure above the concrete surface. The concrete is sealed with an epoxy layer to make it as smooth as possible and prevent it generating any dust.
Top right: The cable housing that prevents the mass of cables leading up to the giant instrument beam above the telescope from becoming mangled or tangled when the telescope rotates.
Bottom left: A gap in the mirror where a segment has been removed for cleaning and resurfacing.
Bottom right: One of the motors that drives the rotation of the dome. This yellow conduits carry high voltage power lines.
Top left: The instrument carrying beam at the top of the telescope structure. Top right: The eye or shutter in the dome that has to be opened for the telescope to see out into the night sky.  Bottom left: The "cherry picker" that is used to remove mirror sections.  Bottom right:  This motor is part of the system that opens the shutter. The background photo shows the mirror and part of its support structure.
Top left: The instrument carrying beam at the top of the telescope structure.
Top right: The eye or shutter in the dome that has to be opened for the telescope to see out into the night sky.
Bottom left: The orange device down on the ground floor is the “cherry picker” that is used to remove mirror sections.
Bottom right: This motor is part of the system that opens the shutter.
The background photo shows the mirror and part of its support structure.
Top left: A closer look at the instrument beam and the instruments it carries. Top right: A mirror section being prepared for cleaning and resurfacing. The large doors behind the technicians leads outside and the notice on the door is to remind anybody opening them that the hill is a windy place and that the winds can be quite ferocious. Bottom left: The underside of a mirror  section with all the trimmings removed and only the blue support framework left in place. Bottom right: The mirror section mounted and ready for placing in the vacuum chamber to start the refurbishing process.  The vacuum chamber is evacuated all the way down to one hundred thousandth of an atmosphere, which is quite a serious vacuum.
Top left: A closer look at the instrument beam and the instruments it carries.
Top right: A mirror section being prepared for cleaning and resurfacing. The large doors behind the technicians leads outside and the notice on the door is to remind anybody opening them that the hill is a windy place and that the winds can be quite ferocious.
Bottom left: The underside of a mirror section with all the trimmings removed and only the blue support framework left in place.
Bottom right: The mirror section mounted and ready for placing in the vacuum chamber to start the refurbishing process. The vacuum chamber is evacuated all the way down to one hundred thousandth of an atmosphere, which is quite a serious vacuum.

Later that evening, after dark, Paul, Lucas, Ross, his son and I were taken up the hill again by Chris to take photos. The one and only rule that Chris stressed repeatedly was that we were only to use red lights and very dim ones at that. On the way up we encountered Peter Haarhoff, the photographer’s group.  They were spread out across half the road surface right on a bend creating an extremely dangerous situation. Some of the group were using red lights that were definitely not dim ones and one in particular was more like a red spotlight. After the rather chilly photo session Lynnette and I joined Paul, Lucas and René for a very late braai and some red wine, courtesy of Paul, at Sterland.

On Saturday morning Lynnette and I took a set of photos in Sutherland’s Main Street and around the town.  Click here to read more and see the photos or you can go here to find out about Sutherland’s Solar System model and, if you want to know how many guest establishments in Sutherland have astronomy connections, you can go here. On Saturday afternoon Ester accompanied us on a rather bumpy ride out to their farm, Orion/Matjesfontein, on the road to Calvinia.  You can go here to read about that visit. On Saturday evening Paul, Wendy, Lynnette and I went to a dark spot about 15 km from Sutherland to do some observing and take photos.

What are these chaps building?  Bearing in mind that the local DRC congregation had held a prayer meeting for rain on the Friday I though they might know something I didn't and be building a large boat. Turns out this is part of a large sphere for the upcoming Africa Burn in the Tanqua.
What are these chaps building? Bearing in mind that the local DRC congregation had held a prayer meeting for rain on the Friday I though they might know something I didn’t and be building a large boat. Turns out this is part of a large sphere for the upcoming Africa Burn in the Tanqua.

On Sunday morning we packed up and, while everyone else made their way back to Cape Town, Lynnette and I went off to Floris and Annami Steenkamp’s place, Klipdrift, to do some observing there.  Click here to read about our visit.  You can also click here to read about how to own a piece of Klipdrift.

This is Lisa Marques's photo of the structure several days later with the builders Top Row: Quinton Maans, Jeff Whitlow, Benny Geduld and Julia Eszter Oláh. On the Floor:  Monique Schiess, Lollie Visagie, Karel Klein, Enrico Maans, Afrika Oncke, Davish Klein, Kosie Oncke, Kobus Klein, James Hayman, Koekie Prins, Nathan Victor Honey and Nicholas Raphael.
This is Isa Marques’s photo of the structure several days later with the builders
Top Row: Quinton Maans, Jeff Whitlow, Benny Geduld and Julia Eszter Oláh.
On the Floor: Monique Schiess, Lollie Visagie, Karel Klein, Enrico Maans, Afrika Oncke, Davish Klein, Kosie Oncke, Kobus Klein, James Hayman, Koekie Prins, Nathan Victor Honey and Nicholas Raphael.
A further updated photograph of the progress made with the structure. Photograph by Isa Marques
A further updated photograph of the progress made with the structure.
Photograph by Isa Marques

Sutherland’s Solar System: March 2015

The unhappy Solar System in Sutherland’s Main Street.

In Sutherland’s Main Street there is a scale model of the Solar System. It consists of stone pillars with the names of the planets attached to the front of the pillar and a brass disc on top of the pillar giving the name of the planet and its distance from the Sun. The model was conceptualized and its construction supervised by a past president of ASSA (Astronomical Society of Southern Africa), Professor Case Rijsdijk, while he was employed by the SAAO in an outreach capacity. What very few people realize is that each disc was also designed for use by visually impaired persons. That is why there is information in Braille on each disc and the planets in the centre were also intended to convey information to the visually impaired more than being an aid to the sighted visitors. At that time there was still a visitor’s centre in the pipeline, which was to have been constructed on the vacant property across the street from the Sutherland Hotel; next to Jupiter’s pillar. The centre unfortunately never materialized.

The brass was a magnet for thieves and at one time an unsightly cage was placed around each pillar and the door to the cage secured with a large brass padlock. Now the padlocks and cages have gone and a tall pole has been planted next to each pillar and on top of each pole there is a structure with four vanes that is supposed to rotate in the wind. It appears that some of them rotate and some don’t and some have already been removed. I could also not quite figure out the significance of the colours of these rotating devices but the poles and their rotating tops are intended to draw the attention of visitors to the planets.

Take a brief tour with me as I walk the Solar System in Sutherland’s Main Street.

Mercury the planet closest to the Sun is located across the street from the Ou Meul Restaurant.  Note that there is no rotating device on top of the pole
Mercury the planet closest to the Sun (0,4 AU or 60 million km) is located across the street from the Ou Meul Restaurant. Note that there is no rotating device on top of the pole and the name of the planet is also missing.
Venus the second planet from the SUN (0,7 AU or 105 million km) is in front of the OK-franchise
Venus the second planet from the SUN (0,7 AU or 105 million km) is in front of the OK-franchise. It has a yellow device on its pole which only rotates by fits and starts.
The earth is next (1,0 AU or 150 million km) with a green rotating device that does not rotate
The earth is next (1,0 AU or 150 million km) with a green rotating device that does not rotate.
Now we are at mars (1,5 AU or 225 million km) and appropriately it has a red rotating device which rotated quite readily in the stiff breeze.
Now we are at Mars (1,5 AU or 225 million km) and appropriately it has a red rotating device which rotated quite readily in the stiff breeze.
For Jupiter (5,2 AU or 780 million km) we cross the street and walk down to a point straight across from the hotel. Note that the planet's name is gone as is the large brass disk that should be on top of the pillar.
For Jupiter (5,2 AU or 780 million km) we cross the street and walk down to a point straight across from the hotel. Note that the planet’s name is gone as is the large brass disk that should be on top of the pillar. The device on the pole was also static.
Saturn (9.5 AU or 1425 million km) is in front of the Co-op but on the opposite side to Jupiter.  Here everything is intact and the device on the pole rotates.
Saturn (9.5 AU or 1425 million km) is in front of the Co-op but on the opposite side to Jupiter. Here everything is intact and the device on the pole rotates.
For Uranus (19.2 AU or 2880 million km) we have to go right out to the edge of town. Here the planet's name , the brass disc and the rotating device on the pole are all gone.
For Uranus (19.2 AU or 2880 million km) we have to go right out to the edge of town. Here the planet’s name, the brass disc and the rotating device on the pole are all gone.
For Neptune (30.1 AU or 4515 million km) we have to hike out all the way to the entrance to the showgrounds and the home of the Sutherland Stock Car Club. Here everything is gone and only the base of the pillar remains.
For Neptune (30.1 AU or 4515 million km) we have to hike out all the way to the entrance to the showgrounds and the home of the Sutherland Stock Car Club. Here everything is gone and only the base of the pillar remains.
Now I know Pluto (Average 39 AU or 5850 million km) is no longer a planet but it was when the model was constructed. To get there we have to walk out all the way to Sterland's gate.  Here everything is intact and the thing on the pole even turns.
Now I know Pluto (average 39 AU or 5850 million km) is no longer a planet, but it was when the model was constructed. To get there we have to walk out all the way to Sterland’s gate. Here everything is intact, but the thing on the pole does not turn.

Next time you visit Sutherland take a walk through the Solar System even if it is a bit tattered. Walking the Solar System does give one a real feel for the vast distances involved in space travel. Bear in mind as you walk from Earth to Pluto that it has taken New Horizons, the fastest space craft ever launched, from January 2006 to July 2015 to get from Earth to Pluto travelling at a speed of 58 536 km/h.

Perhaps if more visitors paid attention to the model the local Municipality might take better care of it.

Sutherland’s Main Street: March 2015

High noon in Sutherland’s main street on a Saturday in March.

On a recent visit to Sutherland I was struck by the fact that the town’s main street was all but deserted by lunch time on Saturday. There was very little vehicular traffic and not much more pedestrian activity either. By 15:00 the only place you could buy a cup of coffee was the Sutherland Hotel’s Karoo Kombuis and possibly The Jupiter. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking hard enough, but then places to have coffee shouldn’t be hard for visitors to find. When I asked somebody why there was so little activity (and no coffee), I was told that Sutherland’s “Season” ‘doesn’t really start until late April or early May!

Anyway, I did a quick overview of the Main Street and the town in general with my camera and here are my impressions.

The entrance to Sutherland's Golf Course.
The entrance to Sutherland’s Golf Course.
That hobbit-like structure partially hidden among the trees is Sutherland's Golf Clubhouse.
That hobbit-like structure partially hidden among the trees is Sutherland’s Golf Clubhouse.
Top left: Main Street in Sutherland at about 13:10 looking south Top centre: Main Street in Sutherland looking north. To right: Crossroads in the centre of town. Bottom: How many people in Sutherland know that their twin-town is Fort Davis in Texas and how many people in Fort Davis know Sutherland is their twin town?   When do the population statistics get brought up to date?
Top left: Main Street in Sutherland at about 13:10 looking south. Top centre: Main Street in Sutherland looking north at the same time of the day. Top right: Intersection in the centre of town. Middle: How many people in Sutherland know that their twin-town is Fort Davis in Texas and how many people in Fort Davis know Sutherland is their twin town? When do the population statistics get brought up to date? Bottom left: This street leads out onto the road to the SAAO. it passes the only filling station which is only open for about an hour each Sunday. Bottom centre: The intersection in the centre of town from a different angle. Bottom right: The road out of town toward Calvinia and Willeston.

Old cemetery containing several Anglo Boer War (Anglo South African War) graves.

Old cemetery containing several Anglo Boer War (Anglo South African War) graves.

Old Commando Headquarters now a private school.
Old Commando Headquarters now a private school.
Top left & right: The telescope donated to the Tourism Office by the SAAO. Top centre: The previous home of the Tourism/Information office
Top left & right: The telescope donated to the Tourism Office by the SAAO.
Top centre: The previous home of the Tourism/Information Office now housing the local office of the Independent Electoral Commission
Kambrokind guest house and the now non-functioning Halley sê Kom Eet Coffee Shop
Kambrokind guest house and the now non-functioning Halley sê Kom Eet Coffee Shop

Halley sê Kom Eet is apparently now an extension to the dining room used to serve breakfast for the guests at Kambrokind Guest House and no longer serves coffee or anything else after that. What a pity.

The White House has undergone a bit of a face lift.
The White House has undergone a bit of a face lift and at least their flags are no longer in tatters..

The Tourism Office or Information Centre has moved with the Municipal offices to a small building, just off the Main Street, in Northumberland Street.  The previous Tourism Office is now the office for the Independent Electoral Commission and the Municipal Offices now house PEP Stores. It is a pity that the telescope in front of the previous Tourism Office was not moved as well and that it is not better maintained.

The Co-op seems to survive against all odds.
The Co-op seems to survive against all odds.
Roggeveld Handelaars also seems to be an indestructible institution
Roggeveld Handelaars also seems to be an indestructible institution
The Police Station is always a hive of activity and crime does not seem to have a specific season
The Police Station is always a hive of activity and crime does not seem to have a specific season
The building housing the Standard Bank is one of the "Jewels" of Sutherland's Main Street with its well kept garden and well maintained building
The building housing the Standard Bank is one of the “Jewels” of Sutherland’s Main Street with its well kept garden and well maintained building
The previous Municipal Offices now house PEP Stores
The previous Municipal Offices now house PEP Stores
One of the newer faces among the Main Street's shops is Zellie se Winkel
One of the newer faces among the Main Street’s shops is Zellie se Winkel
The APK's (Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk) building. I am reliably informed that they intended calling themselves the Afrikaanse Konserwatiewe Kerk, but somebody  pointed out just in time, that the abbreviation would be disastrous.
The APK’s (Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk) building. I am reliably informed that they intended calling themselves the Afrikaanse Konserwatiewe Kerk, but somebody pointed out just in time, that the abbreviation would be disastrous.
Top: The Beautiful building of the historic Dutch Reformed Church. Bottom left: The Church Hall. Bottom centre and right: Advertised church activities.
Top: The beautiful building of the historic Dutch Reformed Church.
Bottom left: The Church Hall.
Bottom centre and right: Advertised church activities.
The town boasts two very busy Liquor Stores
The town boasts two very busy Liquor Stores

There are a few new shops and the townsfolk must be overjoyed that one of them is a hardware store; something that was badly needed in Sutherland.

Ester Jordaan's shop Die Trommel is an institution in Sutherland.  When you visit take your time there are plenty of hidden treasures on its shelves
Ester Jordaan’s shop, Die Trommel, is an institution in Sutherland. When you visit take your time there are plenty of hidden treasures on its shelves

 

An interesting shop in the old Perlman House.
An interesting shop in the old Perlman House.
The new hardware store (and much more too)
The new hardware store (and much more too)
The hardware store from the Calvinia-end
The hardware store from the Calvinia-end
The municipal offices and the information centre are now in this side street.
The Municipal Offices and the Information Centre are now in this side street.
The Louow House is not in the Main Street but is clearly signposted as is the Information Centre
The Louw House is not in the Main Street but is clearly signposted as is the Information Centre
The old lawyer's office converted into up market restaurant.
The old lawyer’s office converted into an up market restaurant.

Andre’s Cafe has been replaced by an OK-franchise and the Old Mill has been beautifully refurbished and now houses a restaurant.

The OK-franchise that has replaced Andre's Cafe
The OK-franchise that has replaced Andre’s Cafe
The renovated Old Mill now the Ou Meule Restuarant and just next door the Kamamma Coffee Shop which I am led to believe no longer opens
The renovated Old Mill now the Ou Meule Restuarant and just next door the Kamamma Coffee Shop which I am led to believe no longer opens

I am sure that all of Sutherland is looking forward to the day when the hospital, which has not functioned for so long, is refurbished and functional again.

Top: The notice announcing the refurbishing of the local hospital. Bottom: A fcillity not much noticed by visitors but essential for those who enjoy their Karoo Braai Chops - the local abattoir
Top: The notice announcing the refurbishing of the local hospital.
Bottom: A facility not much noticed by visitors but essential for those who enjoy their Karoo Braai Chops – the local abattoir
The local weather station down a dusty side street near the hospital.
The local weather station down a dusty side street near the hospital.

I was left almost speechless by the devastation of the beautiful old house that used to be the Magistrates Residence. What an absolute waste and a total disgrace to let it fall into such a state of total disrepair. I did not photograph it as it somehow felt disrespectful to exhibit such a stately structure’s demise to the public at large.

My general impression is that Sutherland, despite valiant efforts from some of its residents and the restoration of some of the buildings, is slowly but surely becoming more and more run down and tattered. I get the feeling that if the stream of visitors, that keeps the guesthouses, the hotel, the eating places and the smaller shops functioning, were to dry up, Sutherland would simply wither away and die. There does not seem to be enough basic economic activity in the town to keep it going without the influx of visitors during weekends and holidays.

I would suggest tarring the road between Sutherland and Fraserburg so that one has a loop from the N1 and back to the N1 again for both north and South bound traffic. That would give easy access to the palaeosurface and good Museum in Fraserburg and include the truly spectacular Theekloof Pass. This step is should increase the tourist traffic to both towns quite considerably.

Orion, an appropriately named potential stargazing destination: March 2015

A farm north of Sutherland with potential for affordable stargazing.

Sutherland is a problem for amateur astronomers because, although it is quite correctly considered to be the astronomy capital of South Africa, there are no facilities in the town for amateur astronomers to indulge in their passion. All the farms around Sutherland are potential observing sites and some farmers, like Nicol van der Merwe on Blesfontein, have already capitalized on this potential.

A panoramic view from the top of the small hill immediately behind the house which offers the best site for setting up telescopes
A panoramic view from the top of the small hill immediately behind the house which offers the best site for setting up telescopes. One can drive up from the house (about 300 m) to here.
This site is right next to the first one and both are situated in low walled, disused sheep kraals. The walls are just high enough to afford protection from the wind,
This site is right next to the first one and both are situated in low walled, disused sheep kraals. The walls are just high enough to offer some protection from the wind but not high enough to hamper viewing.

Albertus Jordaan farms on Matjesfontein about 35 km from Sutherland on the road to Calvinia and Albertus and his wife Ester have also recognized the astronomy potential of their farm. Those of you who visit Sutherland regularly will no doubt have seen Die Trommel also known, tongue in the cheek, as the Sutherland Mall. Go here to see more information about Die Trommel. Ester is the owner of that interesting establishment. Anyway, under the appropriate name of Orion, Ester and Albertus have established a self-catering facility on their farm. It is a large house with three bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen and all the necessary bathroom and toilet facilities, as well as electricity. It will sleep eight comfortably and 10 with a bit of effort. I think going there is well worth the effort if you want to do some serious and undisturbed observing over an extended period.

This panoramic view shows the farmyard which could also be used if one did not want to drive up the hill to the sheep kraals
This panoramic view shows the farmyard which could also be used if one did not want to drive up the hill to the sheep kraals
Top left: The signpost at the entrance to the farm.  From here it is about 300 m to the farmstead. Top right. A view of the house from the northwest. Bottom left. View of the house from roughly due west.  Bottom right. A view from the house to the north and the sheep kraals can just be seen to the far right more or less in the middle of the photograph
Top left: The signpost at the entrance to the farm. From here it is about 300 m to the farmstead.
Top right. A view of the house from the northwest.
Bottom left. View of the house from roughly due west.
Bottom right. A view from the house to the north and the stone wall of the sheep kraals can just be seen against the skyline to the far right more or less in the middle of the photograph against that small strip of cloud.

The property is situated at -33°13’03”, 20°30’46”E & 1317m and interested parties or persons can contact Lynnette at foster.lynnette@gmail.com or on 084 512 9866. I would be unfair not to point out that fairly long sections of the road to the farm are very corrugated or as the locals say – sinkplaat!  Lynnette and I made it there and back in the Vito and the key to survival is to drive slowly, very slowly, over these sections. Slow means less than 20 km per hour. At that speed, you will also have time to admire the magnificent dolerite hills and boulders you pass through. Pack your telescope carefully and it will be fine, proof of which is the fact that we had the 12” Dobby in the Vito on that trip and it survived. On the way back to Sutherland there is a nice, if somewhat distant, view to the east of the SAAO site and SALT’s iconic shape.

Sutherland guest house names with astronomy links: March 2015

How many guest houses in Sutherland use astronomy to lure visitors?

Sutherland has a large number of guest houses. I was informed that there are at least 30, but I am not sure if that also includes those on farms in the surrounding area. Out of sheer curiosity I decided to find out how many have astronomy linked names or advertise astronomy as part of their service to the visiting public.

Sterland, on your right as you approach Sutherland from Cape Town, has a definite astronomy ring to the name, but it is not a guest house.  However, there is a camping facility so perhaps we could stretch the guest house concept a bit and include it. Sterland is without doubt the best known establishment in Sutherland that provides an astronomy service to the public on a regular and continuous basis. I was, however, disappointed to find that the well known Halley sê Kom Eet coffee shop attached to the Kambrokind Guest House had closed its doors. Go here to see more details about Kambrokind guest house.

Linked to Sterland is Kambrokind Guest House where Hally sê Kom Eet no longer functions
Linked to Sterland is Kambrokind Guest House where Halley sê Kom Eet no longer functions.

I could only find one other establishment that actually advertised astronomy as part of its services. The Cottage clearly says, on the large notice board next to its front gate, that it has a telescope. My inquiries revealed that it no longer has one or no longer uses it. I wonder if The Cottage still supplies all the motorcycle parts and services that it advertises. Go here to see more details about The Cottage.

The cottage advertises motorcycle parts and services and a telescope.
The cottage advertises motorcycle parts and services as well as a telescope.

Arriving from Cape Town you encounter a signboard on the left advertising Galileo. Go here to get more details about Galileo. Shortly after Galileo on the right there is a notice for The Galaxy. Go here to get more information on The Galaxy.  On the same corner is the signpost for Alpha B&B. Go here to see more details about Alpha B&B. This is one of Ester Jordaan’s establishments and it does not, at first glance, appear to have an immediately apparent astronomy link, but there is alpha Centauri as well as the fact that all the brightest stars in each constellation are prefaced with “alpha”, so let’s include it. Next there is a large sign for Skitterland. Go here to see more details about Skitterland. Skitterland does not necessarily have to be astronomy related, but let’s also give it the benefit of the doubt.

Galileo's notice board could do with some TLC
Galileo’s notice board could do with some TLC.
Alpha B&B and The Galaxy share a pole in Sutherland's main street
Alpha B&B and The Galaxy share a pole in Sutherland’s main street.
Skitterland has by far the largest signboard of all the guest houses.
Skitterland has by far the largest signboard of all the guest houses.

The next notice we encounter is for Jupiter and The Jupiter. Go here to see more details about Jupiter. I was assured that the two names definitely refer to the same establishment, as pictures later confirmed. As one is about to exit the town in the direction of Calvinia and Williston we find Andromeda’s signpost on our right. Go here to see more details about Andromeda. A little further on, to our left is a notice board advertising Venus Sisters. Go here to see more details about Venus Sister. However, Venus Sisters is situated way out other side the Observatory so perhaps they shouldn’t be counted here among the establishments based in Sutherland, but their notice board is here and we’ve been lenient in other cases, so let’s include them.

Jupiter and The Jupiter are one and the same place
Jupiter and The Jupiter are one and the same place.
You have to drive almost right through Sutherland before you are directed to Andromeda
You have to drive almost right through Sutherland before you are directed to Andromeda.
Venus Sisters has a notice board that is almost out of town and is definitely not in town
Venus Sisters has a notice board that is almost out of town and the Sisters are definitely not in town.

Southern Cross used to be up near the school hostel, but seems to have fallen by the wayside. A fairly new place has popped up on the western edge of town called Starry Night. Go here to see more details about Starry Night. Their name definitely sounds astronomical and also has a distinct ring of Van Gogh to it.

Starry Night presently completes the line-up of astronomy linked guest houses in Sutherland
Starry Night presently completes the line-up of astronomy linked guest houses in Sutherland.

My initial assumption that there would be many guest houses with astronomy related names was incorrect. There are, in fact, only nine, if I include the ones about which I expressed reservations (Sterland, Skitterland, Alpha B&B and Venus Sisters). Apparently only Sterland offers an astronomy experience on a regular basis to visitors.

Enjoy your next visit to Sutherland.

Klipdrift: March 2015

Two farms with the same name.

Klipdrift is situated at the foot of the Verlatenkloof Pass 35 kilometers from Sutherland on the R354. The one Klipdrift (on the right) belongs to Floris and Annami Steenkamp and Floris is developing the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort on that farm.  You can go here to read more about that development.

One entrance two farms. The two homesteads can bee seen peeking out from among the trees on the left and right in the far background
One entrance two farms. The two homesteads can be seen peeking out from among the trees on the left and right in the far background.
The left hand signpost directs you to Hosea and Mari's farm.  At the second gate turn left and take care because there are dogs; one of which is a Rotweiler.
The left hand signpost directs you to Hosea and Marie’s farm. At the second gate turn left and take care because there are several dogs; one of which is a Rottweiler.

The other Klipdrift belongs to a very friendly retired couple from Kuils River, Hosea and Marie Verster. They came over and introduced themselves while we were visiting Floris and Annami’s place, as the two houses are just a stone’s throw apart. Marie used to be in the nursing profession and Hosea was involved in project development at Kranskop just outside Wellington. On the farm Hosea has focused his skills on farming and his years of experience and not inconsiderable expertise, are very evident in the many projects on the farm.

Hosea and Mari's house looking west.
Hosea and Marie’s house looking west.
The house looking southeast.
The house looking southeast.
Marie and Lynnette checking out the farmyard
Marie and Lynnette checking out the farmyard

These two absolutely delightful people overwhelmed us with hospitality and we will definitely be going back to visit them and do some observing from their farm.

Klipdrift/Bobbejaankrans, an opportunity in the Karoo: March 2015

Have you always wanted to own a piece of the Karoo? This might just be your tailor made opportunity.

When Lynnette and I first heard about the development, we immediately got in touch with the owner of the farm Klipdrift, Floris Steenkamp. When Floris heard that we were also keen amateur astronomers he and his wife Annami promptly invited us to spend a few days at their home on Klipdrift. That way we could see the properties that were for sale first hand and also get in some stargazing in the dark skies of the Tanqua Karoo.

The background is a sunset taken from Klipdrift as is the bottom left photograph. The upper right photograph shows the earth shadow to the east of the farm after sunset
The background is a sunset taken from Klipdrift as is the bottom left photograph. The upper right photograph shows the earth shadow to the east of the farm after sunset.

The 10 properties are situated on a 42 ha tract of the farm Klipdrift. These own title, individual plots form the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort and are being marketed by M2A Investment Properties who can be contacted at 082 446 9950 and 082 372 4690 and asking for Wayne McDuling. They can also be contacted via their website if you click here.

The entrance from the R354 about 35 km from Sutherland below the Verlatenkloof Pass.  The background photograph shows the large billboard of the marketing organization handling the sale of the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort's plots. Top left is the sign for Klipdrift and the lower left photograph is a view of Floris and Anami's farmhouse.
The entrance to the property from the R354 about 35 km from Sutherland below the Verlatenkloof Pass. The background photograph shows the large billboard of the marketing organization handling the sale of the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort’s plots. Top left is the sign for Klipdrift and the lower left photograph is a view of Floris and Annami’s farmhouse.

We had a wonderful time at Klipdrift, courtesy of Floris and Annami. It is very dark and presents excellent opportunities for amateur astronomers. It is quite dusty, but that is the nature of the Tanqua Karoo when the wind blows and it was also quite hot, which again is part of the Tanqua’s climate in summer. Generally the wind died down toward midnight leaving us with beautiful clear skies to explore to our heart’s content.

Floris has uncovered and restored an old dipping kraal which must date back to the early 1900’s if not earlier. It is actually an exceptional structure, of which there can only be a few, if any, left in this area.  Floris and Annami are keen conservers of the early Karoo farming traditions and if you are interested in participating in a four day trek with sheep along the Flocksberg pass, contact Floris (083 285 3231).

Top left shows the pit into which the sheep were dumped and the bottom right the steps and narrow exit ramp for the sheep. The background photograph depicts the actual kraal itself.
Top left shows the pit into which the sheep were dumped and the bottom right the steps and narrow exit ramp for the sheep. The background photograph depicts the actual kraal itself.

The plots are situated in a variety of landscapes but all command magnificent views of the Karoo landscape and are placed in such a way that one will not be aware of one’s neighbours. Despite this apparent total isolation, the furthest property is probably no more than two kilometers from the R354 and another 35 km from Sutherland up the Verlatenkloof Pass. All the properties are placed in such a way that one will not be aware of the activities on the farm. Peace and quiet and just the place to recharge those run down city batteries.

Plots one, two, three and four . The large black tanks are part of the sewage system being installed. Take a close look at the background to gain a general idea of the different views from each of these plots.
Plots one, two, three and four. The large black tanks are part of the sewage system being installed. Take a close look at the background to gain a general idea of the different views from each of these plots.
Plots five, six, seven and eight . The large black tanks are again part of the sewage system being installed. Carefully compare the different backgrounds of the plots to gain an idea of the different views from each of these plots.
Plots five, six, seven and eight . The large black tanks are again part of the sewage system being installed. Carefully compare the different backgrounds of the plots to gain an idea of the different views from each of these plots.
Plot nine and a view from the point at which the road forks. One section leading to plots one, three, four and five while the other leads to the others.  The veld was exceptionally dry when we visited as those of you who know the Karoo will be able to see from these photos.
Plot nine and a view from the point at which the road forks. One section leading to plots one, three, four and five while the other leads to the others. The veld was exceptionally dry when we visited as those of you who know the Karoo will be able to see from these photos.

From Floris and Annami’s home the road to the part of the farm on which the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort is situated, crosses a tributary of the Tanqua River and the crossing probably gave the farm its original name, Klipdrift.

These four photographs, are an attempt to show you the river crossing from which the farms name, Klipdrift, probably originated. Top left is a cemented section as you enter from the farmstead. Top right is the section immediately following and bottom left is the central part before one climbs out on the rocky section at bottom right on the side of the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort.
These four photographs, are an attempt to show you the river crossing from which the farms name, Klipdrift, probably originated. Top left is a cemented section as you enter from the farmstead. Top right is the section immediately following and bottom left is the central part before one climbs out on the rocky section at bottom right on the side of the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort.